Business of RPGs
Focusing the New Forgotten Realms
By Anthony Valterra
Associate Business Manager, Tabletop Roleplaying Games
When D&D worlds and licensing manager Jim Butler and I began to contemplate the 3rd Edition version of the Forgotten Realms, a central question nagged us: Who deserves the spotlight? Who is the hero of this vast, rich setting? Is it Drizzt DoUrden? Elminster? The Simbul?
As you no doubt realize, the correct answer is "none of the above." In your game at home, the player characters are the heroes. Powerful good guys like Khelben Blackstaff or Storm Silverhand only pull focus away from the PCs. Oh, major nonplayer characters are fine to have around to kick off an adventure, but after that they should be relegated to background color. Of course, new Realms releases will include some discussion of these NPC heroes (we cant exactly ignore them), but if the good guys arent the focus, who do we detail? That answer got us grinning from ear to ear.
Villains, of course! Those wonderful, inscrutable, malicious, cunning, evil villains in need of a sound thrashing. Without their vile plots and twisted attempts at world domination, player characters wouldnt have opportunities to right wrongs and perform heroic deeds. Even dungeon crawls need some sort of climactic ending that usually involves powerful spellcasters or intelligent monsters, both of whom fall into the villain category.
But the subject of villains brought us to a second problem: After years of novels and roleplaying releases, the villains of the Forgotten Realms have had their lunch handed to them more times than anyone cared to count. These vicious predators plots had been foiled a few too many times, prompting some Realms fans to think our villains looked more like the Keystone Cops than the Illuminati.
Not in the new edition of the Forgotten Realms. The Realms have become a bit grittier and more dangerous, the villains more formidable.
"Hundreds of guilds, cabals, societies, and orders exist in Faerûns wide lands. Some assemble to wage war against evil, swearing solemn oaths of goodwill and protection as binding as any paladins. But most are alliances of ambitious, wealthy, and frequently ruthless people interested only in advancing their hidden agendas, regardless of who or what gets in their way." -- Opening to Chapter 7: Organizations
The new campaign setting sees the return and reformation of some classic villainous organizations. The Red Wizards have used their strength in magic to expand their influence across Faerûn, setting up conclaves in almost all major cities. Red Wizards are now a common and growing influence across the land. Adventurers may find themselves in the frustrating position of bringing down a Red Wizard plot, only to find the local authorities releasing the miscreant by order of the head of state.
The Zhentarim have found an "accommodation" amongst their ruling triumvirate of Sememmon, Fzoul, and Manshoon. Fzoul now firmly hold the reigns of power. With his new blackguard, Scyllua Darkhope, the Zhentarim have begun to see some of their major plans come to fruition. Scyllua has pushed Hillsfars troops out of Yulash and relieved pressure on Voonlar, while Fzoul has struck a secret accord with Mulmaster. The combination has sent Hillsfar running to Sembia in hopes of an alliance.
And speaking of Scyllua (a favorite of mine), she serves as an excellent example of the types of villains more likely to threaten the new Realms. Scyllua is a fallen paladin, and the most zealous of believers are those who have converted from the opposition. "In Scyllua the soldiers of Zhentil Keep have their most determined, persistent, and intelligent captain in generations." Scyllua is a dangerous and charismatic leader of the black network. Here at Wizards, she is often described as "Joan of Arc gone bad."
In the new Realms, dont look for quick wins by your PC heroes or easy help from major NPC figures of good. In fact, many NPC heroes are currently having their own difficulties. The Harpers have had a very public split with one of their major supporters, Khelben Arunsun Blackstaff, and their troubles and internal strife arent over yet. Cormyr, the kingdom most often held up as an example an enlightened monarchy, now faces the problem of what to do when the enlightened ruler dies. "Many nobles are on the swords edge of rebellion, other seek to claw their way back from exile, and Sembian interests are trying to covertly take control of Cormyr or at least gain substantial influence." Unfortunately, Azoun V is still an infant, leaving the crown in the hands of a regent.
Belt up, folks. Life in the Realms is going to get a bit tougher. On the plus side, there are a lot of opportunities for a heroic company of adventurers to right some wrongs, save some lives, and perhaps even turn a tidy profit.
Want more on the new campaign setting update? Catch the Realmswatch!